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EXEGESIS > Thoughts on Interpretation > Exegesis and Hermeneutics   


To speak of interpretation is to speak of exegesis and hermeneutics; interpretation is the study and application of those principles that are essential if one is to say correctly what Scripture says. For the casual reader of God’s Word there are probably no stated principles that are followed in seeking to understand Scripture, but this does not imply that no principles are followed. Every reader brings to Scripture a certain posture or mindset (some would say “pre-understanding”) regarding Scripture; and this worldview, or set of presuppositions affects, either positively or negatively, the understanding of Scripture by the student.

For the more serious minded there is a desire to discover those principles that are inherent in Scripture and that are consistent with Scripture, and faithfully to follow those principles in interpreting the Word of God—an undertaking more easily attempted than accomplished. But to be aware that there are certain principles that serve as parameters and guidelines in the interpretation of God’s Word is to be involved in hermeneutics, with the goal being the ability to discern the meaning of God’s Word when it is studied exegetically.

In Christian history hermeneutics (and the word as an exclusive reference to the study of the principles of interpretation was most likely first used by J. C. Dannhauer’s in 1654 with his work, Hermeneutica Sacra) has traditionally been used to refer to the discipline that formulates the rules that are utilized to insure proper Biblical interpretation.

The word “hermeneutics” comes from the transliteration of the Greek verb hermeneuo, which means “to interpret.” The verb appears four times in the New Testament (Jo. 1:38, 42; 9:7; Heb. 7:2) and the noun, hermenia, appears twice (I Cor. 12:10 and 14:26). Compound words appear fourteen times: diermeneuo (6), diermeneutes (1), and methermeneuo (7). Just as Hermes was the spokesman for the gods, so the noun form in classical Greek referred to one who spoke for the gods, whether poet or seer. The verb later came to be used of “explaining,” “expounding,” “interpreting,” or even “translating.” In the New Testament the word group is used of “translating” Scripture (Matt. 1:23; Mk. 5:41), “expounding” the Old Testament (Lu. 24:27), and “interpreting” tongues (I Cor. 12 & 14).

The interpreter is to be a workman who is “rightly dividing the word of truth” (II Tim. 2:15). The Greek word orthotomeo, appearing only in Second Timothy 2:15, is derived from a verb which literally means “to cut straight.” In order to handle the “word of truth” correctly the believer must follow a straight and true path; he must interpret (cut) the Word of God in a manner consistent with the Word itself. He must be true to Scripture; what he affirms that Scripture says must indeed be what Scripture actually says. He cannot cut in a crooked manner; his “cutting” must be straight. He must correctly handle the “word of truth,” knowing and applying the guidelines that will provide the greater possibility for a true theology.

The student is to obtain the meaning of Scripture from Scripture; he is not to bring meaning to Scripture. He must accurately and faithfully express the intended meanings and thoughts of the authors, for the work of the theologian is that of exegesis (to bring the meaning out of Scripture) not eisogesis (to bring a meaning into Scripture).

Exegesis is the application of the principles of hermeneutics to the sacred text
in order that the text may be understood.

Exegesis is the work;
hermeneutics is the philosophy or theory guiding the work.

The conclusion of exegesis is interpretation,
and the interpretation is the believer’s theology.

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